Today is the 50th birthday of Young America’s Foundation (YAF), the grassroots student organization that helped give me my start in conservative new media over a decade ago.
I knew since high school that I wanted to advance right-of-center values on a large scale, but it wasn’t until I connected with Young America’s Foundation that I got onto a guided path.
When I was a third-year student at UC Berkeley, YAF invited our College Republicans chapter president to an activism summit that they had put together with about a dozen students throughout the country. He couldn’t make it that weekend and picked me to go in his stead. It was a three-day-long brainstorming session in gorgeous Santa Barbara, California, at YAF’s west coast headquarters, known as the Reagan Ranch Center. The highlight was a trip to the 40th President’s western White House, Rancho del Cielo, a jaw-dropping yet humble ranch located in nearby wine country.
I became an “activism adviser” for YAF and continued to work with folks like their President Ron Robinson and Vice President Pat Coyle, who helped me put on events at the Berkeley campus, from hosting speakers to a moving 9/11 memorial.
But it was another YAF conference a year later that changed my life forever.
It was in late 2007 at an event on the roof of the Reagan Ranch Center when I met Andrew Breitbart. I was familiar with the name “Breitbart” from the countless Breitbart.com links that I had clicked on the Drudge Report over the years, but I didn’t know his backstory. He spoke to a small group of YAF’s top activists from that year (known as “Club 100”) and gave a brief biography of his life growing up in Los Angeles to becoming an editor of the Drudge Report to writing a book on Hollywood dysfunction. All of it was typical Andrew: rollicking, genuinely edgy, good-natured, and forward-thinking.
It was on this night I first heard Andrew’s contention that “culture is upstream from politics” — or, in other words, it’s Hollywood, the media, academia, and other cultural phenomena that are guiding our elected leaders and policy, not the opposite. Today, nearly everyone on all sides of the political spectrum has accepted this mantra as axiomatic. Some of us have even dedicated ourselves to fighting the left’s cultural leviathan or creating our own alternatives. Yet, on that night in late 2007, this was a revolutionary idea.
I grew up in West Los Angeles and went to prep school just outside of Beverly Hills. I’d seen the power of the entertainment industry firsthand and knew that Andrew understood it better than anyone I had ever met.
Later that night, I approached him at the hotel bar (yes, Andrew, the star of the night, socialized with the normal people at the hotel bar), with the simple message: “I dug your speech.” Given that we had similar backgrounds, interests, and politics, we had a quick connection. He offered me a small, part-time job by the end of the weekend. I was his first employee.
I was Andrew’s right-hand man when he launched each of his affiliated blogs, the first of which was, fittingly, Big Hollywood, where he and a team of citizen journalists reported and opined on the cross-section of politics and popular culture.
Andrew Breitbart promoted me to Managing Editor of his virtual newsroom just before his death. I became Editor-in-Chief of Breitbart News in 2013 at the age of 27.
I have stayed in touch with YAF throughout the years, speaking at a couple dozen of their events, most recently last month at the Reagan Ranch Center.
There are countless stories of YAF lifting up young conservatives and giving them chances to make a contribution to the conservative movement and our beloved country.
I’m grateful to Young America’s Foundation for what they have done for me and to advance the cause of liberty.
Happy Birthday. To 50 more years!